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Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I have but this is a working organisation not a tourist organisation. The staff are wonderful in this House, but I do not want them to encourage me to go out and play tennis or whatever.
Training courses specifically promoted by the DfEE could be helpful. Those are four areas in which the Government could help in the marketing of UK tourism. None involves huge expenditure but they all involve encouragement and an enabling role. A force for good taken from various departments is truly joined-up government. Because of the fragmentation of the sector, such help could be highly beneficial and I hope that the Government agree.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was kind enough to tell me outside the Chamber that she welcomed what I, as a member of the Green Party, might say on sustainable tourism. I hope that she will not regret that, but I welcome the fact that only three speakers follow to savage me. I suspect that I shall be the irritant in the debate.
The BTA has a commitment to sustainable tourism, which is splendid. But in no way can it be said that visitor satisfaction and industry profitability, which are also commitments, are necessarily compatible with that. I am not suggesting that we should discourage tourism but that the tourism we offer should be of a qualitative rather than a quantitative nature.
I do not want to pose as a puritan on this matter. During the past year I have sailed through the Yangtze gorges and I have visited Mexico. But wherever one goes there is an obvious need to limit tourism. Indeed, my grandchildren were probably among the last children to climb down the mountainous steps of Chichenitza, the wonderful monument in Mexico, before they close to the public in three months' time.
My first point relates to the crying scandal of the non-taxation of aviation fuel in an industry which seriously affects the whole business of global warming. I do not underrate the complexity of that, but steps should be taken at European level to tackle the problem. Meanwhile, I suggest that if any of your Lordships travel abroad as tourists they should, like me, send a donation to Future Forests in order that trees are planted to compensate to some extent for the damage they will be doing to the ozone layer and climate change.
Furthermore, where possible, tourist provision should be on as small a scale as possible. The hotel group referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, was probably a small-scale operation and much preferable to the big chains of often foreign investment around our country.
Our bed and breakfast accommodation is largely admirable. I speak from personal experience because I use it as often as I can. It is often infinitely preferable to staying in big hotels. The food they serve is good. Food is most important in tourism--it is to me but that is possibly because I am a greedy person! The founder of the Good Food Guide once said that the only first-class meal the British produced was breakfast and that they could produce it at any time of the day, whether at 8 a.m., 1 p.m. or 7 p.m., and that it was always very good.
We have moved on since then, although we should never underrate our basic local home-produced foods; for instance, kippers in Scotland. I remember that when I was a member of your Lordships' delegation to the Council of Europe and it came to the British turn to give a party we had a great success with a veal and ham pie with eggs in it. That pate en croute was regarded as a notable gastronomic find by the members of the Council of Europe and we were much congratulated on it.
Now we have first-class young chefs and a great eclectic school of cooking. We also have good food and restaurants everywhere in the country. That is a good change on which we must concentrate because almost invariably--I know that there are exceptions--good food must be produced on a fairly small scale.
Where possible, money should be ploughed back locally. That will come from small-scale developments and encouragement of local tourism. Furthermore, in our efforts to be sustainable and to deal with climate change, we should encourage the use of public transport. We must make certain that it is such that we can do so with a clear conscience.
Several changes in taxation should be made in order to encourage the right kind of tourism developments and to discourage the wrong kind. I mentioned the possibility of a European tax on aviation fuel. The developments which are expensive as regards natural resources, and for which the proper external expenses are not paid--for instance, the immense amount of water used on golf courses--must be examined.
I believe that we can promote tourism with a clear conscience provided that we do our best to ensure that the tourism is as sustainable as possible. Where there is a clash, sustainability should have priority.
Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, we have just been taken on a nice journey down the gastronomic lane and are all grateful to my noble friend Lady Anelay for raising this timely debate. It occurs just before the forthcoming tourist season. Concerns have been expressed about the future of the greatest success story of post-war Britain; that is, the growth of our tourist industry. I have been involved in it for almost 50 years. Until recently, year by year the number of overseas visitors to Britain has increased and the BTA certainly deserves congratulations on all it has done to contribute to that. It has occurred despite disruptive reviews by all governments from time to time.
Tonight we must face the facts. For the first time a downturn in the number of overseas visitors is evident. That is particularly depressing as the millennium year, with the attraction of the Dome, was meant to have been a bumper one for Great Britain. Attendance figures at many famous tourist sites up and down the country, including Madame Tussaud's, are down, some seriously. The situation has not been helped by a large number of new attractions financed by the lottery with no apparent future assessment of what damage they will inflict on well established local attractions and their ability to be viable without further financial help from the Government.
Despite BTA's most effective efforts, in the past two years not only has Britain's share of world tourism declined but it has fallen in real terms in comparison with the growth of our key European rivals. The situation is made worse by an unfavourable exchange rate which makes us appear to be expensive and encourages British residents to go abroad. But increased competition goes much deeper. Make no mistake that Rome, Paris and Amsterdam are increasingly attractive and cheaper. Further, their national tourism offices are annually more aggressive in the quest to attract new businesses which for years have tended to regard London as their first choice.
The activities of the BTA are rightly applauded. Having worked with BTA tourism promotions for the past 50 years, I can confirm that it is a dedicated and effective team which is the envy of our competitors. It is also well respected in the trade. Although we sometimes hear criticisms that its work reaches only a small proportion of visitors from overseas, the promotional programmes and the initiatives undertaken by the BTA have much wider impact. Having evolved and been sustained over many years, its work has become much more sophisticated and has had a cumulative effect. More than any other body, the BTA moulds the image of Britain in all our key markets and increases knowledge about England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as potential holiday destinations. The BTA knows what attracts tourists to this country and how to do it. Government should not believe that they know best: past experience has proved disastrous.
Such marketing and promotional activities have a direct impact at the margin and tip the balance for potential visitors who are undecided into a positive decision to visit Britain. Therefore, when the final choice is made, instead of picking another European destination, they choose Britain. It is, therefore, very puzzling that in recent years the budget of the BTA has been limited and reduced in real terms. The budget has not kept pace with inflation or the promotional spending in our most important markets by our competitors .
Another worrying feature is that overseas visitors stay here for less time. Shorter stays have a much more serious effect because, although London may do well, fewer people tour the country. This is potentially very serious for all the regions as overseas visitors spend more money per day on their holidays than domestic visitors, who lately appear to prefer Sunday shopping. Many tourism enterprises are small businesses working on very thin margins, so any reduction in visitor numbers may force them into deficit. The result is less opportunity for reinvestment and to survive as healthy businesses. As they lose trade, many choose to close earlier because they cannot cover operating costs. Therefore, our tourism industry has a shorter season, or businesses may be tempted to reduce quality and the spiral of decline will begin to bite even harder.
In considering the need for further support of the work of the BTA, we must not forget that a key element of the product is critically weakened because it does not have a nationally co-ordinated marketing effort for England and in England. It is of great importance that the Government perhaps make a policy U-turn with regard to the English Tourism Council. They should give it an appropriate marketing remit so that it is represented at the table alongside Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and can play a full part in helping the BTA to help to win back tourists. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will tell me that more money has already gone to the regions. As president of the Southern Tourist Board, I am well aware of that. However, it is not the same thing. We must have a central body to speak for England as a whole.
I should like to pick up one point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. He said that money should be given to the regions for overseas publicity. I believe that that would result in total chaos. The situation is bad enough anyway with all the different tourist offices in New York. To allow every region to have its own little office there would be totally confusing and self-defeating.
At the moment, tourists who arrive in Britain face a fragmented tourist information service provided by the different regions which, naturally, are competitive. That can lead only to difficulties when tourists try to plan an itinerary in the UK. There is a strong belief that the abolition of the English Tourist Board and the creation of the new English Tourism Council were dictated and influenced more by the policy of regionalisation than tourism, the interests of which may have been sacrificed to bolster the regional government policies of the Government. Not even the boundaries of the tourist regions and the regional governments always coincide.
I was always taught that it was wise to invest in success. The reduction of financial resources of the BTA clearly shows that this is not a philosophy that the present Government embrace. I believe that in dealing with one of our most important industries which is vital to employment, our heritage and thousands of small business, it is high time that the Government did embrace it. I believe that the health of our tourism industry could be put at risk.
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